Il dibattito sulla ‘censura locale’ di Twitter

27 gennaio 2012

di Fabio Chiusi

Il 26 gennaio, con un post sul suo blog, Twitter ha annunciato un importante cambiamento nella gestione dei contenuti degli utenti. Contrariamente a quanto avvenuto finora, singoli tweet potranno infatti essere oscurati su base nazionale, se richiesto dalla legislazione locale, rimanendo tuttavia visibili nel resto del mondo.

Until now, the only way we could take account of those countries’ limits was to remove content globally. Starting today, we give ourselves the ability to reactively withhold content from users in a specific country — while keeping it available in the rest of the world. We have also built in a way to communicate transparently to users when content is withheld, and why.

La rimozione dei contenuti sarà comunicata in modo trasparente agli utenti, precisa Twitter, ragioni comprese (a dire il vero, il post precisa immediatamente: «we will attempt to let the user know»). La lista dei cinguettii 'messi all'indice' sarà reperibile su http://chillingeffects.org/twitter. Al loro posto, apparirà una notifica di questo tipo:

«The tweets must continue to flow», scrive l'azienda, ribadendo il proprio impegno a tutelare la libertà di espressione degli utenti. Tuttavia, crescere significa anche adattarsi a nuovi contesti:

As we continue to grow internationally, we will enter countries that have different ideas about the contours of freedom of expression.

La decisione ha fatto molto discutere in rete. Alcuni hanno immediatamente gridato alla censura. Altri hanno addirittura applaudito lo sforzo di Twitter di mantenere la massima trasparenza nella sua politica di gestione dei contenuti. Ecco una rassegna dei commenti più significativi.

1. Boing Boing - Twitter Caves to Global Censor

«Difficile non interpretare questa modifica come una grossa battuta d'arresto e delusione», scrive Xeni Jardin. Che aggiunge, riportando alcuni tweet della giornalista Shannon Young,

"It would've been too ironic for twitter to have made this country-based censorship policy announcement yesterday, on the #Jan25 anniversary."

Jardin avanza anche il dubbio che sulla decisione abbia pesato l'investimento nell'azienda del principe saudita Alwaleed bin Talal per 300 milioni di dollari, illazione subito smentita da Alex Macgillivray di Twitter.

2. TechDirt - Twitter Decides to Censor Locally, Rather than Block Globally, in Response to Government Demands

Per Mike Masnick la decisione di Twitter non deve far gridare alla censura. Anzi, si tratta di «una mossa intelligente» e una «soluzione in qualche modo più elegante». Perché rifiutarsi di soddisfare le richieste dei governi avrebbe portato all'esclusione da quei paesi e mercati, piuttosto che a più libertà di espressione. E perché le rimozioni saranno, per quanto possibile, trasparenti:

I know some people saw this and got upset about "censorship!" but looking at the details, it actually looks like Twitter is doing a smart thing here. You could argue that the proper response would be to stand up to local governments and say, "sorry, we don't block anything" -- and I'd actually have sympathy with that response. But the truth is that if a government is demanding censorship, then Twitter is likely going to have to comply or face complete blocking. The solution that it came up with is somewhat more elegant: it will just block the specific content in the specific location and (importantly) will try to let users know that the content is blocked while also sending as much info as it can to the Chilling Effects website so that people can learn about what's being censored. This is a lot more transparent and hopefully actually shines more light on efforts to censor Twitter.

Senza contare che la 'censura' a livello globale è già in atto - per le richieste basate sul Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

3. GigaOm - Twitter will censor tweets, but will try really hard not to

Mathew Ingram trae due lezioni importanti dalla decisione di Twitter:

No matter how Twitter phrases it, this news is going to concentrate attention on one thing: that a corporate entity, however well-meaning, controls which tweets are seen or not seen

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More than anything else, Twitter's announcement highlights both how integral a part of the global information ecosystem it has become, and how vulnerable that ecosystem can be when a single entity controls such a crucial portion of it. How Twitter handles that challenge will ultimately determine whether it deserves the continued trust of its users.

4. The Guardian - Twitter Faces Censorship Backlash

Charles Arthur sottolinea innanzitutto il rischio che gli attivisti vedano scomparire la loro possibilità di comunicare liberamente:

activists in countries such as Syria or China might be concerned that they would be unable to see information they need to know.

Del resto, altri colossi del web applicano già lo stesso metodo:

Google, Yahoo, eBay and Facebook already use similar systems to control what content is shown in which countries.

Tuttavia, Arthur riporta la dura condanna dello sviluppatore Terence Eden:

"I don't want to develop on an API which contains a 'withheld_in_countries' field. What's next, a 'for_your_own_good' field?" He added: "I helped develop a Twitter client that Chinese pro-democracy activists used. Guess that's dead now. Thanks, Twitter."

Eden, who describes the move as censorship, said it would be difficult to work around because Twitter will identify which country a user is in by their internet address. "You can spot the censorship, but it's hard to route around it," he said.

5. Marketing Land - Twitter Now Able to Censor Tweets, if Required by Law, on a Country-by-country Basis

Dopo aver spiegato che un metodo simile è già utilizzato da Google, Danny Sullivan spiega che la decisione di Twitter non dovrebbe preoccuparci, dopotutto. In particolare, sarebbe sbagliato associarla alla battaglia in corso tra sostenitori e oppositori di norme sul diritto d'autore online come SOPA e PIPA. In quel caso la libertà di espressione è in pericolo. Mentre in questo, precisa Sullivan, non serve spandere allarmi. Per esempio, nel caso di una ipotetica nuova rivoluzione raccontata su Twitter, il regime reagirebbe o ignorando il servizio di microblogging o chiudendolo del tutto - nulla a che vedere con la richiesta di rimuovere singoli tweet, dunque:

The news, coming right after all the attention around opposition to the anti-piracy SOPA/PIPA bills in the United States, might cause some to think Twitter is bending to new anti-piracy demands.

That’s mistaken. Twitter’s already been pulling content where piracy or copyright claims are lodged, under the existing DMCA law. Today’s announcement isn’t changing that, though potentially, Twitter might begin disclosing DMCA takedowns within its own search results and Twitter timelines. That doesn’t happen yet, but Twitter says it hopes to do so over time.

What’s new is that eventually, Twitter may expand to having staff based in other countries. That makes the company more liable to legal actions in those countries, so it needs a way to comply with those legal demands. The new “Country Withheld Content” change gives it a framework to do so.

That, of course, leads to another concern. What if some country undergoing a revolution declares that tweeting about protests is illegal? Would Twitter suddenly start censoring tweets that many within those countries might depend on?

Twitter tells me that this is more a hypothetical concern than a real one that it expects to face. Typically when this happens, Twitter says, it doesn’t get demands to to block particular accounts or tweets. Instead, authorities in the affected countries either ignore Twitter (good for freedom of expression) or block it entirely (bad, but also out of Twitter’s control).

Overall, there doesn’t seem to be a particular reason to hit the panic button here. Twitter stressed this was a reactive tool, not one where it is globally installing filters (as is the case for search engine censorship in China). Anything that does get removed is done so on a case-by-case basis, with removals logged to Chilling Effects.

6. Reuters - isturbing Development at Twitter: Countries will Silence Tweets

Anthony De Rosa, sul suo blog sul sito della Reuters, ha un'opinione decisamente più drastica:

One has to wonder if the Arab Spring could have happened the way it did under this new policy. Since censored tweets will still be available for people outside of the country doing the censoring, does that simply make those banned tweets more powerful? If everyone else in the world can see what is being blocked, will it have the opposite of the intended effect and bring greater worldwide attention to possible injustices?

7. Jillian C. York - Thoughts on Twitter's Latest Move

Per Jillian C. York, della Electronic Frontier Foundation, la mossa di Twitter - al netto dei complottismi sull'investimento dello sceicco - è censura. Tuttavia, si tratta di una soluzione «intelligente» a un problema con cui, presto o tardi, tutte le piattaforme di pari importanza si devono confrontare. L'azienda, sostiene, è riuscita ad affrontarlo senza alterare profondamente la sua policy. La rabbia è comprensibile ma Twitter, ricorda York, «non è al di sopra della legge»:

Let’s be clear: This is censorship. There’s no way around that. But alas, Twitter is not above the law.  Just about every company hosting user-generated content has, at one point or another, gotten an order or government request to take down content.  Google lays out its orders in its Transparency Report.  Other companies are less forthright.  In any case, Twitter has two options in the event of a request: Fail to comply, and risk being blocked by the government in question, or comply (read: censor).  And if they have “boots on the ground”, so to speak, in the country in question?  No choice.

In the event that a company chooses to comply with government requests and censor content, there are a number of mitigating steps the company can take.  The most important, of course, is transparency, something that Twitter has promised.  Google is also transparent in its content removal (Facebook? Not so much).  Twitter’s move to geolocate their censorship is also smart, given the alternative (censoring it worldwide, that is) – particularly since it appears a user can manually change his or her location.

I understand why people are angry, but this does not, in my view, represent a sea change in Twitter’s policies.  Twitter has previously taken down content–for DMCA requests, at least–and will no doubt continue to face requests in the future.  I believe that the company is doing its best in a tough situation… and I’ll be the first to raise hell if they screw up.

La possibilità di ovviare con una semplice operazione di modifica delle impostazioni alla censura su scala nazionale fa riferimento alla spiegazione contenuta in questo post di The Next Web.

In sostanza,

all you have to do if you want to see a ‘blocked’ tweet is to change your Country setting after reading the warning.

Since Twitter made clear that restrictions will likely be limited to one or several countries, the best way to prevent this problem from ever happening is to set this setting to ‘Worldwide’ another country right now.

Update: It seems that Twitter automatically reverts to your IP country if you try to set it to “Worldwide” but changing to another country worked fine for us.

Per The Next Web, si tratta di una scappatoia volontariamente lasciata aperta da Twitter:

Chances are that Twitter perfectly knows about this workaround, and its details are particularly well thought. Knowing that content has been blocked is a very good start, but that’s not the best thing about it.

What’s particularly clever is its ease of use, even in countries where technical workarounds may be difficult to access. Users won’t need to hide their IP with a proxy: Twitter lets them change it manually, despite the potential loss in hyperlocal ad dollars for the platform.

Well done, Twitter, chances are tweets will continue to flow for quite a while.

Per ulteriori approfondimenti:
Twitter boycott? No, Let's trust it di Mohamed El Dahshan
Twitter tweet takedowns: censorship or sensible? di Kate Solomon
Relax: Twitter’s New Censorship Policy Is Actually Good for Activists di Josh Catone
Why Twitter's new policy is helpful for free-speech advocates di Zeynep
Twitter e la censura: tre motivi per non gioire di Fabio Chiusi
Cosa faresti al posto di twitter per evitare la censura? di Luca Conti
SOPA, Twitter e le proteste sul web: verso una strategia della tensione digitale? di Giovanni Boccia Artieri
Twitter’s censorship is a gray box of shame, but not for Twitter di Paul Smalera
Twitter e la censura di Massimo Mantellini